Thomas Mann is a jeweler and metalsmith who has exhibited with the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show more than thirty times. Tom is the owner of Gallery I/O – the I/O stands for Insight-Full Objects – in New Orleans, and launched studioFLUX , through which he offers hands-on skill-building workshops for metalsmiths and entrepreneurial training to artists of all media to empower them to achieve greater success. He recently released a new book, The Metal Artist’s Workbench: De-Mystifying the Jewelers Saw (North Light Books, Oct 2011), with a DVD to follow this July. Tom began his teaching career with Design for Survival: Entrepreneurial Thinking and Tactics for Artists, a workshop that he has taught for 22 years. In a recent interview, Tom divulged how he got started as a craft artist, and told us how he shares his knowledge and insight to inspire other artists:
Tell us about your early experience as a metalsmith.
“In the summer of 1968, when I was 21, I opened my first shop in the Poconos (in Pennsylvania), The Golden Owl. The next summer I was at the New Jersey coast in the back of a surf board shop with my little silversmithing bench where I made more money than the surf shop did. The next summer the surf shop was in the back and I was in the front.”
That’s a great way to start out! How did you get interested in jewelry making?
“I was fortunate to attend a high school in Allentown PA that allowed students to “major” in art in their junior and senior years. I had four periods of art every day: two during school hours, one before and one after. One semester we had a student teacher from Kutztown University who taught jewelry making. That was it — I had found my artistic calling.
Additionally, anyone who demonstrated any talent in this area eventually got hired by one of the two contemporary jewelry studios operating in Allentown at the time and I worked in both of them, learning not only the metalsmithing but the business of the trade, as well.”
And, he added, “I quickly realized the connection between jewelry, money and girls!”
(laughing) That’s a wise connection. What inspires you when you create a collection?
I have always thought of myself as a sculptor. My degree is in Performing Arts but specifically focused on technical theater, set design and lighting, so the sculptural aspect has always been the mode in which I imagineer everything I make. Lately I have been fortunate to be able to actually execute a large body of purely sculptural works. The themes I am concentrating on sculpturally involve balance, natural materials, and spiritual stories.
It’s clear that you really give back and support other artists, through workshops, books, DVDs and by hosting group shows with other artists in Gallery I/O. What motivates you in this regard?
I had a fabulous high school art teacher, Jim Musselman, and a fabulous college theater professor, Rob Howell. And while I am not a professional academic teacher like they were and are, I feel I have a lot of know how and experience to share. It’s my turn to give it back. So, I am aggressively pursuing opportunities to do that by teaching workshops all over the country and in my own school, studioFLUX in New Orleans, recently begun but thriving.
How did you learn about the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show, and what has been your experience with the show?
While working at the New Jersey shore surf shop during the summer of Woodstock, Tom recounted, “I met a guy, a leathersmith, who told me about craft fairs, and who I should note is still a friend. Five years later I did the Craft Show for the first time and have been in it every year since save two. The show has been an extremely important component in my professional development. It’s where I grew my first serious following for my work. It has always been the place where I presented the new work for the following year. And, because for many years I lived and worked in the Poconos, it’s where I have always seen old friends and supporters from the region. I’m thrilled to be back in the show this year and looking forward to the day when we ‘load in’ and setup for the event”.
Thomas is known mixing industrial aesthetics and materials with evocative romantic themes and imagery. We are looking forward to seeing his innovative sculptural jewelry again this year at the Craft Show!